In the days before OS X, if you had trouble with a hard drive, you could simply stick a utility disk in the CD drive & boot into a working Finder, fix the problem, plus a whole lot more, just booted from the CD. With OS X, you can still boot from an optical disk, but only into the environment that the disk allows — not into the Finder, which severely limits what you can do with the machine and the files on the hard drive. That’s been a primary and legitimate gripe many of us have had with OS X since it was first introduced.
To get around those limitations, Micromat has started packaging TechTool Pro with a 1GB Firewire flash drive — the TechTool Protege. Pure genius. With TechTool Protege you can boot into a workable operating system to run TechTool Pro (or any other utility you can fit into the drive), back up files over the network, or whatever.
Lots of people who support Macs have been doing something like this since… forever. When I started working with Macs in 1995, I kept a floppy disk with a system folder & a few tools on it that could boot and fix anything from an SE to the mighty Quadra 950. That eventually morphed into a spare SCSI drive in an external case, then various CD’s with the current version of Dave’s Essentials Toolkit. These days I keep a Firewire case with a spare 20GB laptop drive loaded with a current OS install and a bevy of diagnostic & repair tools. It has enough space to back up most user’s files in case a wipe & reinstall is needed (can’t say I’ve ever had to resort to that.)
While Micromat’s idea is neither cheap ($229) nor unique in the Macintosh world, it is unique in the market; all the other Mac disk utilities that I know of use a bootable CD. Hats off to them for listening to their users & making a truly useful tool.